Topics in Classical Hebrew Literature and Culture
Midrash: How the Rabbis Interpreted the Bible
Spring 2001
Lewis Glinert
Office: 305 Bartlett Hall
Office hours: Tu. 1-2, Th. 1 - 2


Midrash is the ancient Jewish term for Bible interpretation. In the centuries directly following the Biblical period, at a crucial juncture in history when Judaism and Christianity were parting company, the Rabbis deployed a highly creative method of interpretation probing the underlying existential issues in the Biblical narrative -- as well as drawing from the text the basic practices and customs of Judaism. Down the centuries, this mode of thought has become a key ingredient in the traditional Jewish 'mindset' . Remarkably, meanwhile, postmodernist literary theory has now rediscovered in Midrash a challenging 'new' way of reading text.

We focus on some of the oldest and most powerful motifs in Midrash, the Creation, the Flood, the Akedah, and Jacob and the Angel, and view them through two complementary prisms: First, through a wide range of ancient Midrashic texts themselves (in particular, the Apocrypha, Septuagint, Talmud and Midrash Rabba); and second, through Aviva Zornberg's influential contemporary Jewish reading of the themes of Genesis.

No knowledge of Hebrew or Judaism is necessary, but a basic familiarity with the narratives of Genesis is necessary.


Mid-term 1 hr. written examination (35% of the grade)
Two 3-page essays (counting together for 30%)
One final 10-page project (35% of the grade)
The essays and project are to be typed in Geneva 10 pt, double-spaced.
There will also be weekly class reports.


The following books are required and can be purchased at the bookstore:

The following have been placed on 24-hour reserve in Baker Library:

About Midrash

Primary Sources


Readings should be completed by the date specified.
There will be no class on Tues May 29, and replacement x hrs will be scheduled.

Week 1: Topic: What is Midrash?
March 27
March 29 Holtz, 177-204.
Schwartz, 14-20
Kugel, The Bible as it Was, 1-49

Week 2: 'Creation'
April 3 Genesis ch. 1-3
Kugel, The Bible as it Was, 51-82
Kugel in Hartmann & Budick, 77-101
April 5 Zornberg, 3-36
Heinemann in Hartmann & Budick, 41-55
Essay due Apr 8, 11:00 pm: What are the key features of Midrash?

Week 3-4: 'The Flood'
April 10 Genesis ch. 6-9
Midrashic texts (hand-outs)
April 12 Midrashic texts (hand-outs)
April 17 Kugel, The Bible as it Was, 99-120
April 19 Zornberg, 37-71

Week 5-6: 'Abraham and the Akedah'
April 24 Genesis ch. 20-22
Midrashic texts (hand-outs)
April 26 Midterm (1 hr)
May 1 Kugel, The Bible as it Was, 165-178
May 3 Spiegel, 28-59
Zornberg, 97-122

Week 7: 'Jacob '
May 8 Midrashic texts (hand-outs)
May 10 Genesis, ch. 25-28
Kugel, The Bible as it Was, 199-229
Zornberg, 144-179
Essay due May 10, 11:00 pm: Analysis of selected Midrashic texts

Week 8:
May 15 'Biblical Intertextuality: A midrash on Psalms'
Kugel, In Potiphar's House, 173-213
Psalm 137
May 17 'Midrash and the Law'
Kugel, In Potiphar's House, 214-246

Week 9: 'What Midrash Tried to Do'
May 22 Kugel, In Potiphar's House, 247-270
May 24 Dan, in Hartmann & Budick (read just 127-129)
Kermode, in Hartmann & Budick, 179-193

Project due at 4 pm on last day of exam period:
How does the Midrash portray sibling relations in Genesis and is there a common thread running through them?

(Explore the stories of Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his Brothers, using Kugel and Zornberg and any other primary sources you wish.)

Regular and punctual attendance is expected. If there are unavoidable reasons to miss a class, please inform me at least a day in advance.

* If you have any questions about this course, you can reach Prof. Glinert at Lewis.H.Glinert@Dartmouth.EDU.

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